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Laura Klappenbach

Laura\\\'s Animals / Wildlife Blog

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New Animal Profile - Swifts

Sunday March 30, 2014

I just added a new profile to the Animal Encyclopedia. Please extend a warm welcome to the swifts.

Swifts (Apodidae) are a group of birds that include American swifts, swiftlets, spintails, and typical swifts. There are about 83 species of swifts alive today. Swifts inhabit all continents except Antarctica. They inhabit a variety of terrestrial habitats including grasslands, scrublands, steppe, urban areas, and forests. Swifts are superb areialists that have sicle-shaped wigns well-suited for fast, maneuverable flight. Swifts have very small, delicate feet and are not able to perch. However, swifts are able to grasp vertical surfaces since their rigid tail feathers provide additional support.

To find out more, be sure to read the swifts profile.

Photo © Jim McCulloch / Wikipedia.

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New Animal Profile - Hummingbirds and Swifts

Sunday March 30, 2014

I just added a new profile to the Animal Encyclopedia. Please extend a warm welcome to the hummingbirds and swifts.

Hummingbirds and swifts (Apodiformes) are a group of birds that are small in size and have short, delicate legs, and tiny feet (the name "Apodiformes" is derived from the Greek word for "footless"). Hummingbirds and swifts have numerous adaptations for specialized flight. These include very short humerus bones, long bones in the outer portion of the wing, long primary feathers, and short secondary feathers.

To find out more, be sure to read the hummingbirds and swifts profile.

Photo © Ed Reschke / Getty Images.

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A New Haven for Migratory Birds in Arizona

Saturday March 29, 2014

In 1974, Wally and Marion Paton, a couple living in the town of Patagonia in the southeast corner of Arizona, decided to make a few modifications to their yard to attract migrating birds. The Patons planted some flowers, installed several water features, and hung a dozen or more hummingbird feeders. Their efforts were rewarded. More than 15 species of hummingbirds began to visit their property and the Patons soon realized that fellow birdwatchers were gathering outside their yard to get a view of the birds.

The Patons generously welcomed visiting birdwatchers. For more than three decades they received visitors from around the world who wanted to come and see the hummingbirds for themselves. The Patons installed a tent for visiting birders, installed seating areas and provided assistance in identifying the birds in their garden. They accepted donations to help cover the cost of feeding the hummingbirds.

Now, the Paton property has been passed on to their children and the new generation wanted to ensure the area remain preserved for both birds birdwatchers in years to come. The family recently sold the land to the American Bird Conservancy and it will be looked after by the Tucson Audubon Society. This wonderful birding location will remain a haven for migrating birds and birders hoping to glimpse rarely-seen species such as the plain-capped starthroat, the violet-crowned hummingbird, and the magnificent hummingbird.

Photo © Tmore Campbell / American Bird Conservancy. Violet-crowned hummingbird.

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Urban Wildlife More Diverse Than Previously Thought

Saturday March 29, 2014

A recent study involving 147 cities around the world has revealed that urban areas can support a surprisingly diverse collection of species. This seems counterintuitive—conventional wisdom suggests that urban areas cause widespread loss of biodiversity. Although conversion of natural areas to cities does impact the wildlife of the region, it is encouraging to find out that some species do adapt and that cities develop their own fauna that is a unique reflection of their geographic location.

The study was conducted by a team of scientists from UC Santa Barabara and was funded by the National Science Foundation. The findings of the study suggest that although urban development causes a large amount of species loss in terms of both plants and animals, some endemic species prevail in the altered landscape.

Scientists found that parks within cities often provide much needed resources for wildlife. This means that by optimizing green space in cities and by putting forth sound conservation policies for urban environments, urban biodiversity can be better protected and bolstered.

Photo © John Cancalosi / Getty Images.

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How Polar Bears Stay Warm

Saturday March 29, 2014

New research reveals that the way polar bears conserve energy and generate body heat differs from their cousins, the brown bears and the black bears. Brown and black bears hibernate during the cold winter months. This enables them to save energy and tolerate the cold without having to sustain activity throughout the harshest months. In contrast, most polar bears remain active throughout the winter (only pregnant females retreat into the shelter of dens during the winter). This means that polar bears must power movement and generate sufficient body heat to cope with frigid temperatures.

A team of scientists led by Charlotte Lindqvist, a biologist and assistant professor at the University at Buffalo, have now discovered an underlying genetic mechanism that might explain how polar bears are able to cope with cold temperatures. The research team found that polar bears have unique gene variations that influence the way in which polar bears make use of nitric oxide.

Nitric oxide is thought to play a key role in determining how nutrients are used by the body. When cells transform food into energy, it is thought that nitric oxide may act as a trigger in determining whether energy from food is stored as fat or burned to generate heat. In polar bears, it is thought that nitric oxide activity tends towards the production of heat (instead of storing energy as fat). This means that polar bears are better suited for staying warm in cold temperatures. Brown and black bears, by comparison, store food as fat which they burn slowly to sustain themselves throughout their hiberation.

Photo © Andy Rouse / Getty Images.

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World's Top Carnivores Face Similar Threats

Saturday March 29, 2014

A recent study published in the journal Science highlights the threats faced by large terrestrial carnivores around the world. The research examined the well-being of species such as tigers, lions, cheetahs, sea otters, polar bears, brown bears, spotted hyenas, gray wolves, African wild dogs, giant pandas, and numerous others to evaluate the common challenges these carnivores face.

Large carnivores are particularly vulnerable to population declines because they have high metabolic demands. As a result, they rely on large territories that support healthy prey populations so they can obtaint the food and energy they need for movement and maintaining body temperature.

The study findings reveal that, for many species of large terrestrial carnivores, humans have both caused population declines (through activities such as hunting and habitat destruction) as well as helped in population recovery (through the establishment of various protection programs).

The fact that top carnivores in terrestrial ecosystems have a number of vulnerabilities in common is both a concern and an opportunity. Although many species suffer at the hands of similar threats, conservationists can also help protect many species by applying similar techniques. By understanding these ways in which top carnivores are vulnerable, scientists can better manage and help ailing populations of large predatory mammals. The authors of the study propose the establisment of a Global Large Carnivore Initiative that would enable them to better coordinate research, conservation and policy at both the local and national levels where top carnivores are imperilled.

Ripple WJ, Estes JA, Beschta RL, et al. Status and ecological effects of the world's largest carnivores. Science. 2014;343(6167):1241484.

Photo © Raimund Linke / Getty Images.

The Unique Vision of Mantis Shrimp

Saturday March 29, 2014

Mantis shrimp are the visionaries of the animal kingdom. These small, bottom-dwelling marine invertebrates have the most complex eyes of any living creature. The eyes of mantis shrimp have more than a dozen different types of photoreceptors—light-sensitive cells that visually interpret different areas of the light spectrum. These numerous types of photoreceptors enable mantis shrimp to perceive many different colors and to detect differences between linear and circular polarized light. Mantis shrimp can detect light that ranges from deep ultraviolet to far red.

The exact number of photoreceptors mantis shrimp have varies from species to species. Some mantis shrimp have 16 and others have as many as 21 different types of photoreceptors. Regardless of the exact number, one thing is clear: mantis shrimp have many more photoreceptors than any other animal.

Swalllowtail butterflies, the next closest animal to mantis shrimp in terms of their visual complexity, have eight different types of photoreceptors (photoreceptors are also referred to as "chromatic channels"). Birds and reptiles see using four chromatic channels that span a smaller range of light wavelengths than mantis shrimp. Whereas mantis shrimp can detect light of wavelengths that range from 300 to 720 nanometers, birds and reptiles sense light in a smaller range, from 300 to 700 nanometers. Vision in humans, by comparison, uses three chromatic channels that detect light from 390 to 700 nanometers.

Mantis shrimp are not only keen-sighted but they are also very colorful creatures. They exhibit a variety of color patterns and displays (some species even use fluorescence to enhance their appearance). The colors and patterns of mantis shrimp are thought to play a role in communication. But although despite the chromatic complexity of their appearance, mantis shrimp still have much more visual complexity than would be required to interpret each other's color patterns. Scientists believe that mantis shrimp do not use their complex visual system to discriminate between colors as other animals do. Instead, mantis shrimp use their many different photoreceptors to quickly recognize specific colors. Put another way, the eyes of mantis shrimp are best suited for quick interpreatation of visual information, not for the slow contemplation of variations in color.

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New Animal Profile - Segmented Worms

Wednesday February 26, 2014

I just added a new profile to the Animal Encyclopedia. Please extend a warm welcome to the segmented worms.

Segmented worms are a group of invertebrates that includes about 12,000 species of earthworms, ragworms and leeches. Segmented worms live in marine habitats such as the intertidal zone and near hydrothermal vents. Segmented worms also inhabit freshwater aquatic habitats as well as moist terrestrial habitats such as forest floors.

To find out more, be sure to read the segmented worms.

Photo © Nick Hobgood / Getty Images.

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Vertebrate Evolution

Wednesday February 26, 2014
Vertebrates are a well-known group of animals that includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. The defining characteristic of vertebrates is their backbone, an anatomical feature that first appeared in the fossil record about 500 million years ago, during the Ordovician period. In this article, you'll find out about the various groups of vertebrates in the order in which they evolved to create a picture of how vertebrate evolution unfolded to the present day.

The Cambrian Period

Wednesday February 26, 2014
The Cambrian Period (543 to 505 million years ago) is the first time period of the Paleozoic Era. It is preceded by the Precambrian. The Cambrian Period opened in the aftermath of a mass extinction. During the last 100 million years of the Precambrian, a unique fauna had developed. Referred to as the Ediacaran biota, these creatures are the earliest known multi-cellular creatures to have inhabited Earth. But for reasons that remain unclear, they suddenly disappeared and their extinction marks the end of the Precambrian and the dawn of the Cambrian.

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